When the polling stations opened yesterday morning, there was no shortage of speculation and optimism about who would win Kingston’s Mayoral race, as well as the district contests for councillor, and school board trustee. Now, I’d be lying to you if I didn’t admit that I was considerably disappointed with the final tally for Mayor, and my district’s school board trustee. Mark Gerretsen wasn’t my pick for the Limestone City’s top job, but at the end of the day, the majority spoke and the results were overwhelming. The unofficial results on the City’s website indicated that Gerretsen netted 17,096 votes, or 56 percent of all votes, which was clearly more than the combined total of all of his competitors.
In spite of Gerretsen’s apparent landslide victory, a closer look at the preliminary numbers tell a different tale. In 2006, 37,696 Kingstonians rocked the vote, however the turnout for the 2010 municipal election presently sits at a disappointing 30,306 voters, which represents a 20 percent reduction. Keeping in mind the fact that all of yesterday’s totals have yet to be finalized, if the number of eligible voters in 2006 remained the same in 2010, it would mean that only 31% of Kingston’s eligible voters cast a ballot. In other words, three out of ten eligible Kingstonians bothered to participate. And what do we have to blame for this poor showing? Was it the lack of a defining election issue? The absence of either a lauded or loathed incumbent running for re-election? Too many starry-eyed hopefuls splitting not enough votes? While we could argue any one of these at length, at the end of the day voters are to blame.
From a convenience point of view, my experience at the polls yesterday could not have gone any smoother. I showed up at the polling station at Artillery Park, and got slightly lost as I wandered around the block to find the entrance. I presented my driver’s licence at the door and again to claim my ballot, at which point I was ushered behind the cardboard blind to shade in a few ovals. All told, I was in and out in about 4 minutes. Unfortunately, my adventure in democracy was not the norm for many Kingstonians. Some of my colleagues and friends reported that they waited upwards of 40 minutes, while unlucky souls in Pittsburgh were delayed well over an hour, standing in line past the 9pm deadline due to a ballot mix up. Needless to say, those in long lines witnessed numerous folks who left due to scheduling conflicts, or general outrage. I can’t say that I blame them.
Another personal observation from yesterday’s big event was City Hall’s poor online communication plan, both on their website as well as via Twitter. Like many others, I was constantly refreshing the City’s website to get updates as they became available. Within 2 minutes of the initial results coming available, the web page became virtually inaccessible, while updates were seemingly provided only if you managed to get through. The City’s Twitter account appeared to be out of commission during the first half hour after the polls had closed, but this changed when a flood of over two dozen tweets hit the wire. While somewhat organized, the number of tweets was overwhelming, and they were limited in content. This required followers to comb through dozens of messages to compare results. An example of the chaos from @cityofkingston‘s twitter feed is as follows:
- Councillor, Lakeside District : HECTOR, Dorothy – Votes: 1132 (2 of 2 polls reporting)
- Councillor, Lakeside District : JARDIN, Joan – Votes: 864 (2 of 2 polls reporting)
- Councillor, Lakeside District : BAIN, Mark – Votes: 829 (2 of 2 polls reporting)
- Councillor, Lakeside District : CAMERON, Doug – Votes: 646 (2 of 2 polls reporting)
At the end of the day, here’s what we know for sure. Voter turnout stunk, reaching lows not seen since the 1970’s. The lines were too long for some, which may help the case for online voting in 2014. We have another Gerretsen in City Hall, the second youngest Mayor in Kingston’s history, who will do his best to build consensus on key issues such as green jobs, affordable housing and maybe a third crossing. And last but not least, are the four returning, five new and three old faces coming to the horseshoe at City Hall. Returning Councillors include: Rob Hutchison (King’s Town), Dorothy Hector (Lakeside), Bill Glover (Sydenham) and Lisa Osanic (Collins-Bayridge). Past councillors coming out of retirement include: Rick Downes (Cataraqui), Kevin George (Loyalist-Cataraqui) and Jim Neill (Williamsville). Newcomers include: Sandy Berg (Kingscourt-Strathcona), Brian Reitzel (Pittsburgh), Jeff Scott (Countryside), Liz Schell (Portsmouth) and Bryan Paterson (Trillium).
Thanks and credit for today’s photo to Pat Wallace.